Pioneering Welsh broadcaster dies

Edwards headed Wales' SC4

LONDON — Internationally feted pioneering Welsh broadcaster Owen Edwards, who established network S4C, died Aug. 30. He was 76 and had been ailing from Parkinson’s disease.

Edwards ran the Welsh-language station from its 1982 bow to 1989.

He worked in the Welsh-language media for more than 30 years. In addition to S4C Edwards was pivotal in setting up radio services BBC Radio Cymru and BBC Radio Wales.

His other roles included chairman of the Assn. for Film and Television in the Celtic Countries and he received a lifetime achievement award from BAFTA in recognition of his work in the television industry.

Born into the Welsh cultural elite in Aberystwyth in 1933 Edwards’ first language was Welsh. Although he learned to speak with an immaculate educated English accent at school, throughout his career Welsh remained his professional and personal language of choice.

After reading law at Oxford, Edwards worked initially as a cataloguer at the National Library of Wales, but it was not until he began his career in television, initially with Granada and, from 1961, with the BBC in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, that he discovered a working environment he would excel in.

At the BBC Edwards worked as a public affairs presenter fronting its Wales’ nightly Welsh-language show, “Heddiw” (“Today”), a role he was well suited to by virtue of his fluent interviewing style and good looks.

The BBC’s TV listing magazine described him as “a friendly personality whose name has been made as widely known by the television camera as those of his father and grandfather who, in their turn, gave immeasurable service to Wales.”

In 1967 he was tapped as program organizer with BBC Wales, subsequently promoted to head of programs in 1970 and controller in 1974.

The campaign for a dedicated Welsh-language TV channel was a long and sometimes violent one; BBC studios both in Wales and England were attacked by Welsh nationalists, and thousands of Welsh citizens refused to pay the licence fee, which funds all BBC services and is levied on all U.K. homes that have a TV set, until they had their own web.

When the greenlight was finally given to launch a Welsh-language TV station by the British government, led by Margaret Thatcher, Edwards was the obvious choice to lead it and duly became the broadcaster’s first chief executive.

Forced into early retirement by Parkinson’s disease in 1989, by then S4C, funded by the public purse and buying many of its programs from local shingles, had become an essential ingredient of the U.K. broadcasting landscape.

Survivors include two daughters.